Today I’m going to blog briefly about this phenomenon known as the Finnish marketing problem. The main problem exists because of this popular, deep-seated Finnish mantra: “Thou Shalt Not Boast as a Finn.”

Finnish advertisers, no matter how talented, face mental barriers to doing compelling advertisements. This is perhaps because of negative connotations specific to Finnish culture associated with Advertising and Public Relations. The reputation of a PR professional, for instance, is extremely negative in Finland.

As a Singaporean who has lived in Finland for the past 1.5 years and has dated a (cute) Finnish guy for 4.5 years, I have observed that Finns base their national pride on four things:

  • Finns should seen to be reliable;
  • Finns should talk less and do more;
  • Finns should work less and charge high; and
  • Finns should have “sisu” and be “persistent”. Since well–failure is not an option. Sisu can also alternatively be read as being “stubborn”.

All four traits are extremely admirable, but only with good intentions and a reasonable knowledge of what is happening around the world. This is because the very same traits probably do lead to a tendency for Finns to necessarily frown upon the concept of advertising. This is because effective advertising might sometimes involve exaggerated claims, unabashed self-promotion, made-up stories, or something really ridiculous.

It seems that some Finns believe that if a product is really reliable and good, then there is no need to “spin a story” in the advertisement—simply stating the facts will do. Finns like to be perceived as humble and honest!

Also, advertising might be considered “manipulative” because it is definitely not neutral and might sometimes even be unethical or intrusive. Perhaps in the Finnish context, quantity and style of advertising are very important—it is essential not irritate the consumer by overdoing. Against this anti-boasting climate, one strategy in advertisement that works with Finns seems to be self-depreciating humour.

But self-depreciating humour does not make you WANT, or DESIRE any product. Neither does an advertising strategy of simply stating the facts. Both strategies probably work only for necessities products. If you want to market any luxury products, or products in a FMCG monopolistically competitive environment, you have to sell dreams.

Some of my Finnish friends are even against the idea of selling more products for a company’s profitability, and are against advertisements! This is perfectly fine– but having such an attitude won’t get your economy out of any form of recession at all. Which isn’t too bad, either, because you use less things, waste less things, and basically just live equally poorly.

The next question is therefore—how can advertisers use this cultural knowledge to create impactful advertisements? The problem with using self-depreciating humour or simply stating facts in advertisements after all, is that both strategies simply do not inspire any consumers into buying anything of value to themselves, albeit it being extra. This is very detrimental to the growth of product sales.

Or, do they even want to influence–to say, “Hey, come look at me, it’s your loss if you don’t!” If the answer is a “No”, then why are Finns even talking about economic recovery?